Director Adam Smith on The Chemical Brothers: Don't Think

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The Chemical Brothers have been touring as an electronic-music duo for more than a decade; the team has won Grammy awards and accolades for its hard-hitting dance music -- and the amazing visual show that the act puts together. On Wednesday, February 1, select movie theaters around town will screen The Chemical Brothers: Don't Think, an exclusive concert event filmed at a live show in Japan last year. We caught up with Adam Smith, the film's director (and the Chemical Brothers's longtime visual collaborator) to talk about the process.

Westword: How did you begin collaborating with the Chemical Brothers?

Adam Smith: I was doing visuals for various clubs they were sometimes DJing at, so we kind of met that way. And they were called the Dust Brothers then, not the Chemical Brothers. So we met, and I really liked their music and they liked what we were doing with visuals and stuff, and then they decided they were going to do a live show -- it was only twenty minutes long in those days -- and they said, will you come and do some visuals. At that time I was doing visuals under the name of Vegetable Vision, and we did their first show. I've been involved with every show ever since.

That was about eighteen years ago. It's grown as they've grown, from a twenty-minute set to two hundred people, and that was a two-meter screen, and now it's fifteen thousand people, and hour and a half set and a thirty- to forty-meter screen. The first gig we did outside of London, we couldn't get a transit van, we ended up traveling in an ice cream truck, and now there's three or four trucks with a whole crew and equipment. It's been quite a journey.

And where did the idea for the film come from?

It's from this set that was on the tour last year, they didn't have an album to promote, so they were able to choose whatever songs they wanted from their incredible back catalog and make the ultimate Chemical Brothers live set. And there are some new songs in there, and visually, we've reached a point where we had the set three months in advance and programmed the lights to go with the visuals to a level that we've never done before. There's a real interaction that goes on between the lights and the visuals where a dancer on the screen might whack his hand down and all these lights go up. It was just time, we'd never documented it, so there's no record of a full Chemical Brothers set. It's really important to do it, if we hadn't done it now then would we ever do it? There's a part of the film that says "Don't Think," and that was kind of the creative mantra.

What was it like for you to jump into a project of this size? Did you have any experience in film before that?

It's the first film I've done, but I've done some music videos, I did "Galvanize" for Chemical Brothers and ...

What was it like for you to jump into a project of this size? Did you have any experience in film before that?

It's the first film I've done, but I've done some music videos, I did "Galvanize" for Chemical Brothers and have done some music videos for the Streets and I've done some documentaries and dramas, Skins and Little Dorrit. And I did Doctor Who as well, so I've done quite a lot of drama stuff. But I tried to bring that experience into really making a concert film come alive for a cinema audience, to really emotionally connect with it and try to capture what the experience of going to a Chemical Brothers gig was like -- not just what it looks like, but how it feels. We put a lot of cameras in the crowd, and you really get a sense of what effect the show has on them. You get these intimate, private moments of people just loving it, so happy or really scared or euphoric, so that was a way of emotionally connecting.

It was very different. In a way, there were similarities, the Chemical Brothers's music setlist comes from -- forms, in a way -- it's not a narrative script but it's definitely a journey through emotions. We really tried to follow that -- in a way, that was the script. A journey through different states, altered states.

What's been the feedback you've received so far?

It's been really overwhelming, it's been amazing. People seem to be really affected by it, and either they really want to go to a festival or they really want to go to a Chemical Brothers gig or really want to go out partying. We've had a five-star review in Empire magazine, a film magazine, for a music concert film. It's really amazing. I think people will like the fact that it's -- hopefully -- quite unconventional. And you're used to seeing concerts in a certain way, shot in a television format, there are nine cameras, two on the side of the stage, two at the front of the house, there's a kind of format for it, and we tried to break away from the format. And the show is quite an unconventional show, it's not every visual show that has exploding paintballs or exploding teapots or insects or an architectural Gothic cathedral. I don't think you'd get it commissioned if you tried to pitch it that way!

I think some people have expressed frustration that they want to dance. I'd encourage people if they do want to dance to just get up and dance. But then other people are like, "It's nice just to sit back and watch what we used to do when we were kids."

Visit www.fathomevents.com for more information and to purchase tickets.

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